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U3A Writing: Jed's Surprise

Josephine Mackecknie tells a tale of unexpected revenge.

The boy watched his mother. He'd been told in a hard tone of voice to sit in the chair, don't move and be quiet, and as she didn't usually speak to him like that he'd obeyed her unquestioningly, yet fearfully, wondering what he'd done wrong.

It was for the best, his mother had thought. He was a very clinging, highly-strung child, always wanting to be with or near her, and making him play outside would only have upset him. He obviously didn't know what she was doing but then, she wasn't totally sure either. She'd watched Jed do it a couple of times, without taking much interest, but now wished she had. The summer heat in the dilapidated, weatherboard farmhouse, miles from anywhere, was oppressive, humid and almost unbearable and the woman, down on her knees on the floorboards, totally absorbed in her task, was sweating profusely and continually wiping a towel over her face, hands, underarms and in between her breasts. Strands of hair persistently escaped from the elastic band around her ponytail and straggled annoyingly around her face and she pushed them back, angrily, again and again behind her ears.

At last, sitting back on her heels, she knew that what she'd been trying to do would be satisfyingly right or very wrong - then she thought of Jed. Today was his birthday. He was a big man. Handsome. He'd swept her off her feet. Married five years now, but it seemed a lot longer to her. Her world had been made complete when their son was born. Sometimes Jed worked the land, other times he disappeared into town. She never really knew where he was or what he was doing, but he always came home at the end of the day, whatever hour, and this was going to be a special surprise for him. As she soaked the towel in cold water at the sink again then wiped it over her face and limbs she heard a whimper and disbelievingly turned to look at her son, realising that she'd forgotten him, albeit for only minutes, with her thoughts of Jed.

Guilt flooded her mind and she hastily cooled his tiny body with the cold towel then gave him a drink of water. Staring into his eyes she told him, firmly, to stay where he was. That she was going outside again but wouldn't be long. Did he understand? He nodded, his eyes pools of misery as he looked up into her face. She gave him a quick kiss, longing to pick him up and comfort him, but there was no time. The room was gradually darkening as evening approached so she put the light on, knowing he was afraid of the dark. Slowly she walked down the hall, propped open the back door and went out.

The boy was only a tot; three years at the most. Minutes ticked away, but to the child they were like hours. Alone in the silent room, seemingly abandoned, he grew terrified, willing his mother to return, and making keening noises no child should ever have to make. Moths began to flutter around the bare light bulb and flies entered through the open door, settling irritatingly on his face and body. His tiny chest began to heave uncontrollably, fear mounting with every tick of the clock.

Big, blue tearful eyes kept their unwavering vigil on the hall. Where was she? He had to find her. Easing himself off the chair - his feet touched the floor. Looking towards the hall, frightened, wanting to move but remembering his mother's words, he suddenly felt a warm trickle run down his legs. It formed a small, pale yellow pool at his feet and with wide eyes he stared at it, appalled, then it was all too much for him and his face puckered up and a huge sob burst from his tiny frame, followed by a heartrending wail - that coincided with his mother's return, and as she looked at the pathetic, distressed little figure she thought her heart would break. Glancing hurriedly at the clock she changed his wet clothes, softly assuring him, "It doesn't matter, my darling, really," and as she bent down to lift him up he all but leapt into her open arms. Hugging him tightly she kissed him then wiped his damp face and eyes with the hem of her skirt and he looked at her adoringly. He was safe.

His small hands clutched the back of her blouse, his little legs tightly gripping her waist as she whispered in his ear, "Now, we're going to the barn. To play Hide and Seek, from Jed, and I want you to do exactly as I tell you, O.K.?" and she felt his head nodding against her neck.

"He mustn't see us so you must be very quiet, alright?" and he nodded again. Once more she looked at the clock, then at the room. Checking. It was getting dark outside. He would soon be home. She carried her son down the hall and through the open back door, closed it, then crossed to the barn not too far away. The woman knew she would recognise the sound of Jed's truck long before it arrived.

Lying down on the straw with the boy she cuddled him, cooing as she gently rocked him, and in her arms his fears were allayed. She stroked his soft, damp, fair hair, her eyes and mind a besotted, ever-clicking camera of his every expression. Watched his drooping eyelids close and open, close and open and she knew merciful sleep wasn't far away. Suddenly she heard it - in the distance - and she whispered, "Remember what I said?" but his long, black eyelashes had ceased their fluttering and now rested in peace and she pressed her lips to his damp forehead, murmured, "Good boy,'" then rose and crept towards the door.

She saw the truck pull up in a cloud of dust, but it seemed like ages before Jed got out. He took what looked like a slab of beer from the back of the truck and carried it into the house and when the door slammed shut behind him she moved to one side to the exploder box and pressed the plunger down - hard - and the deafening explosion was horrific. The boy woke up screaming, the barn walls shuddered menacingly as the house erupted into a ball of flame, and the woman stood mesmerised, her hands up to her mouth as she stared at the holocaust, her perspiring body shaking uncontrollably with a barrage of emotions. Jed hadn't reappeared!

She'd got it right! Surely nothing could survive that inferno! Thank you sweet Jesus! She desperately wanted to comfort the child yet there was still so much to be done and with shaking, sweating fingers she pulled the wires back towards her then wound them around the box and placed it in a previously prepared blanket. Prepared about the same time as she'd trailed the wires, attached to the gelignite in the lounge, along the hall, through the back door and out to the exploder box in the barn. She'd know the chances she was taking for herself and her son. If she'd messed it up, in the house, they'd have died together. Right or wrong it was better than leaving him in Jed's care.

In the darkness the sound of a car approaching the house could be heard, and the woman froze, staring towards the sound. No lights could be seen. Then the headlights flashed briefly and the woman ran out into the yard and waved, illuminated by the raging fire behind her, and the car pulled up alongside her. Running back to the barn she scooped the tearful boy up in her arms then sped to the car and laid him on the back seat. In the already opened boot she placed two filled suitcases, also packed and hidden days earlier. The laden blanket was next. That would be dumped somewhere, far away. Her sister, her accomplice and her alibi, said "Well done, sis!" as they drove away and the woman cuddled the child tightly as he drifted back to sleep, and for the first time in years, whatever happened in the future, she felt free. When enquiries were made, as they would be, the woman would say she'd been at her sister's house all weekend. Jed wouldn't be able to deny it. Everyone knew he was a heavy drinker and into all sorts of scams. He'd been fossicking for gold and using dynamite for years without success and had eventually sought solace in a bottle, many bottles and, if she was very lucky, it would be considered an accident.

"You'll not abuse my child, or me, ever again!" the woman's voice screamed inside her head.

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